It’s one of the most popular trends on the PGA Tour. And, some would argue, one of its riskiest. PGA and Champions Tour players have become more vocal about using CBD to treat their ailments since the compound was removed from banned substances list in 2018.
Players are using and endorsing CBD, but the PGA Tour is wary
It’s one of the most popular trends on tour. And, some would argue, one of its riskiest.
In 2018, the World AntiDoping Agency removed CBD from its Prohibited List, allowing its use by PGA Tour players and Olympic athletes. (The tour, as a participant in the Games, takes its direction on drug enforcement from WADA and the United States Anti-Doping Agency.) Maggie Durand of WADA says a drug is placed on the list for meeting two of three criteria: It has the potential to enhance sport performance, it represents a health risk to the athletes, and it violates the spirit of sport.
According to tour players, caddies and coaches interviewed by Golf Digest, perhaps 15 to 20 players, or more, routinely use a CBD product. Bubba Watson, Charley Hoffman, Lucas Glover and Scott Piercy are among the high-profile names with CBD-related sponsorships, along with Champions player Scott McCarron.
What spurs the players’ CBD use varies. Cited benefits include anti-inflammatory properties, anxiety relief, and improved sleep. Watson, who has been the most vocal player on the topic, says the product keeps him pain-free.
“What many don’t realize is the incredible mental and physical strain pro golfers endure practicing and competing day after day and year after year,” says Anthony Mazzotti, CEO of Functional Remedies, which became the first hemp-oil company to become an official sponsor on tour (the Champions’ Rapiscan Systems Classic).
In April, however, the tour sent a warning to players about CBD. The warning, which the tour shared with Golf Digest, states, “The FDA, DEA and private organizations including Major League Baseball (MLB), have conducted tests on CBD and “THC-free” products only to find significant levels of psychoactive (and prohibited) THC or falsely labeled amounts of CBD.”
Andy Levinson, executive director of the PGA Tour’s Anti-Doping Program, has expressed concern because of the lack of regulation within the industry. In a 2017 study, the American Medical Association discovered more than two-thirds of products tested had different levels of CBD than what was stated on the label. In 21 percent of those items, THC was found, which at any level could produce a failed test for a tour player.
“CBD in its pure form is not prohibited,” Levinson told Golf Digest, “but the use of CBD in any of its currently available forms would be at a player’s risk.”
Some players remain undaunted. “I’ve had doctors involved to do my research and see what companies out there make a product that’s safe for me and safe for my family. It was a no-brainer,” Watson says. “There’s no bad stuff in it, there are no chemicals in there that will mess you up or make you fail a drugs test. There are certain companies we trust.”
To this point, no player has publicly failed a tour drug test because of CBD use. And, given the samples of CBD products available at a handful of PGA Tour events this season, there’s not a back-room stigma to its use. Nevertheless, Levinson says he gets more CBD-related questions than on any other supplement.
“You see this a lot in the supplement industry,” Levinson says. “There’s some buzz around something, and everybody tries it, and they might stick to it for a while, but generally a lot of times it fades away.”
Golfers Embrace CBD, Even as Its Gentility Is Questioned
PGA and Champions Tour players have become more vocal about using CBD to treat their ailments since the compound was removed from banned substances list in 2018.
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Billy Horschel, the 2014 FedEx Cup champion and an investor in a CBD company, thinks the stigma over using the compound is changing. “That weed-smoking image that is out there just because people haven’t had the correct information is being torn down,” he said. Credit. Sam Greenwood/Getty Images
Billy Horschel went six months without a top-eight finish last year before he found a remedy for his ailing golf game from a surprising source: the hemp plant. Horschel, a five-time PGA Tour winner, began using cannabidiol, or CBD, products shortly after he missed the cut at the British Open in July. He had four top-eight finishes in the next four months and was playing some of the most consistent golf of his career before the season was suspended in March because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Horschel, the 2014 FedEx Cup champion, is convinced that the CBD-infused topical creams and powders produced by the company Beam have contributed to his return to top form by increasing his quality of sleep and decreasing inflammation in his knees and ankles. So bullish is Horschel on the products, he recently became an investor in Beam.
He is the latest in a growing group of tour members, including Bubba Watson, a two-time Masters champion, and Scott McCarron, the reigning Schwab Cup winner on the Champions Tour, who are paid endorsers for CBD products. Their advocacy would appear to signal a growing acceptance of CBD use in the conservative world of professional golf, which has been slow to distinguish between recreational and medicinal use of marijuana-derived products. The chemical compound, which is used to treat a variety of ailments from pain and inflammation to anxiety and seizure disorders, has been legal for golfers to use since the World Anti-Doping Agency removed CBD from its list of banned substances in 2018.
But allowing its use is not the same as endorsing it. Tour officials last year warned players that they risked failing a drug test if they used CBD products, because they are subjected to limited government regulation and may contain THC, the psychoactive compound of cannabis that is prohibited. The tour’s antidoping policy lists cannabis with drugs of abuse like cocaine, and so Horschel initially shied away from CBD products for fear of failing a drug test and gaining a reputation as a stoner, besmirching the tour’s refined image.
“There’s still not enough correct information out there,” Horschel said in a recent interview, “but that weed-smoking image that is out there just because people haven’t had the correct information is being torn down.”
In the past year, two players, Robert Garrigus and Matt Every, have served 12-week suspensions after failing tournament-week drug tests for THC. They both said they had been prescribed marijuana for medical purposes in states where it is legal, their impassioned defenses driving home the general perception in the men’s game that nothing, not even a performance-enhancing drug violation, splinters the tour’s genteel veneer more than a failed test for a so-called drug of abuse, even if the drug is obtained legally.
Garrigus was particularly vocal about the tour’s drug policy, which allows players to apply for therapeutic-use exemptions for prescribed painkillers but seldom approves exemptions for marijuana.
“The fact that it is socially unacceptable for cannabis and CBD right now blows my mind,” Garrigus said. “It’s OK to take OxyContin and black out and run into a bunch of people, but you can’t take CBD and THC without someone looking at you funny. It makes no sense.”
McCarron said he first heard about CBD from his wife, Jenny, a competitive triathlete, who read about its use among athletes in her sport. “The PGA Tour does not want to own it so much,” McCarron said. “They say, ‘Well, it’s just a fad.’ But this stuff works.”
Andy Levinson, who oversees the tour’s antidoping program, which is conducted during tournament weeks, cited the lack of regulation of CBD products as a concern. He pointed last year to a 2017 study conducted by the American Medical Association that found THC in more than a fifth of the CBD products being sold online that it tested.
“There is no guarantee that what is on the label is what is contained in the product,” he said.
Levinson’s warning gave Horschel pause, which is why he chose a company, he said, that subjects its products to three independent tests to make sure they are THC-free.
Horschel said he had been drug-tested twice in tournament weeks since he started using the product. He said he was more concerned that the Claritin-D tablets he takes for his allergies would trigger a positive test than his CBD use.
Scott McCarron, the reigning Schwab Cup winner on the Champions Tour, is a paid endorser for CBD products. Credit. Stacy Revere/Getty Images
For players who traverse time zones regularly and routinely finish rounds at dinnertime on one day and then tee off early the next morning, subpar sleep is virtually an occupational hazard. Horschel said that when he had an afternoon tee time, followed the next day by an early-morning round, he might get only four hours of sleep because he would have so much adrenaline in his system after his late finish.
“It would take me so long to calm down and to sort of shut my brain down,” Horschel said. Beam’s sleep product “has been a massive help for that,” he added.
The way McCarron sees it, the players are better off taking CBD products than a prescription drug. “Ambien, Xanax, any of those drugs are so bad for you,” McCarron said after last season’s season finale on the Champions Tour, where the players are more open about their CBD use, their chronic aches and pains caused by decades of wear and tear on their bodies perhaps emboldening them to speak. Referring to CBD, McCarron continued: “Why not promote it? I wish the tour would be a little more behind it.”
A CBD company, CV Sciences Inc., was an official sponsor of the tour stop in San Diego in January, and the products have gained plenty of unofficial exposure. When Phil Mickelson, a five-time major champion, began chewing gum during competitive rounds last year, he set off widespread rumors that he was chewing CBD gum, a position that McCarron maintains. “Tiger? Yeah, he’s chewing it,” McCarron said. “Phil? He’s chewing it.”
The speculation intensified during the second round of last year’s Masters when Mickelson was caught on TV squirting a liquid into his mouth using an eye dropper while waiting to hit a shot. Tiger Woods chewed gum all week on his way to the title, explaining afterward that it helped curb his appetite. If CBD gum was what Woods was chewing — he declined to say — he had ample reason for not wanting to unnecessarily confuse the public, which might recall that when Woods was arrested on a D.U.I. charge in 2017, he had THC in his system.
Mickelson, who won his 44th tour title last year at age 48, said the gum he had been chewing was infused with caffeine, not CBD. “The rumors that I am involved in any capacity with CBD is not true,” he said in a text message. “It’s something I’ve looked into. I did try it, but I’m not using it now.”
Before the season was suspended, Horschel had an ankle tendon injury that he treated with a CBD-infused cream, which allowed him to play on without pain. “It allows you to recover better and get over aches in a more natural way,” he said.
There is only one treatment for aches and pains that’s better, Horschel said, and that’s the one that has been forced on all the players during the past two months: rest.